Venture into any history or science class and the minute that the subject of space exploration comes up, the only figures named will likely be Caucasian males. “Hidden Figures,” a 2016 drama directed by Theodore Melfi, seeks to rectify that automatic image in most students’ minds. The film stars Tarajji Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae. It was created on a budget of $25 million and grossed almost $23 million in its opening weekend.
In this trailblazing film, the lives of three incredibly important and influential women take centerstage. Mathematician Katherine Johnson, engineer Mary Jackson and supervisor Dorothy Vaughan find themselves oppressed by their Caucasian colleagues on the tail of Sputnik I’s successful launch in 1960s America.
With exciting scientific breakthroughs, a healthy dose of humor and even a little romantic subplot, this film has something for everyone. I particularly loved the character of Mary Jackson and the comedic relief she provided, but I found myself rooting for all three women throughout the movie.
In spite of their obvious skill and talent, the main characters are forced to contend with ridiculous rules that are a hallmark of their time. For instance, despite being the first African-American woman in the Space Task Group and easily the smartest person in any room she enters, Katherine is demeaned by her colleagues, who forbid her from using the same bathroom or coffeepot that they use. There were times during the movie when I literally gasped at the crude treatment she received.
Even though she was eventually accepted by her contemporaries and received the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the fact that she has been virtually unheard of in spite of her notable contributions is another dark mark in an already abysmal history that’s not unique to just Katherine’s experience.
So many people tend to overlook the essential and all-too-underrated workofwomen.Althoughthisistrue in most fields of study, it’s a glaring oversight in space exploration in particular.
Just this year, President Barack Obama awarded Margaret Hamilton the Presidential Medal of Freedom for work that she did in NASA’s Apollo missions which took place nearly five decades ago. The lack of recognition is even more apparent when it comes to contributions made by women of color. Again, Katherine Johnson did not receive her Presidential Medal of Freedom until 2015.
Surely movies that spotlight underrepresented, important historical figures will help all the hidden figures throughout history get their due. A demand for greater diversity and increased interest shared by audiences everywhere certainly makes this likely.